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Dublin: 10 °C Sunday 17 February, 2019
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From the Garden: Reflecting on the year - it all went great except for the aubergines!

As usual, the aubergines were a disaster – at this stage, I think I only bother sowing them because there’s not much else to do in February, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

IT HARDLY SEEMS possible that another year is over, and yet here we are again – my final column for 2018 and I’m in a reflective mode.

Weather

It goes without saying that the big feature of the year was the biblical weather – hurricanes, floods, snow, heatwave, drought and the coldest October night since records began.  

It’s a troubling thought to finish off a year, but it would seem that climate change means this is our new normal.

Alliums

Onions and garlic were great this year, but as always we didn’t have enough onions and we’re buying onions already having run out of home-grown ones a few weeks ago. I think the key with garlic is early sowing and next year’s crop is already popping out of the ground having been sown in late October.

Leeks were fantastic – I have about 40 in the ground and we’ve started dipping into them already.

Tomatoes and Fruiting Things

It was a great year for tomatoes for me, though I think I started a wee bit early in February and so the crop was finished almost entirely by mid-October.  

Still, I would prefer them to start cropping early rather than last into November. They loved those Mediterranean conditions in the summer.

It was the best year ever for cucumbers thanks to GROW HQ’s head grower Richard Mee, who gave me a good tip – he said you should water the cucumbers from above, rather than below.  

The courgettes did well outside, but tunnel ones produced loads of tiny ones (I think because the soil was over-fertilised).

Pumpkins and squashes were great – we grew nearly 100 plants and will be eating them well into late spring.

As usual, the aubergines were a disaster – at this stage, I think I only bother sowing them because there’s not much else to do in February. In nearly a decade of growing, I’ve only ever grown them successfully once and that one triumph keeps the insanity going year on year.

Salads and Greens

Richard finally convinced me to abandon the idea of sowing oriental leaves in module trays for later transplanting, in favour of sowing direct. I have to confess it worked great, sowing two or three x 1m rows of oriental greens every 3 weeks or so.  I also had a nice crop of perpetual spinach, chard and kale in the tunnel.

Brassicas

We’ve been enjoying brussels sprouts for the last few weeks – so much so that I might have to buy some for Christmas.  

I grew the delicious Cavolo Nero kale in the tunnel which has been doing well, and also happy that the sprouting broccoli plants I sowed in June should provide some great crops during the hungry gap months in spring next year.  I didn’t grow any cabbages this year – oops.

Roots

My roots crop were in the cold edge of the veg patch this year thanks to the luck of the crop rotation draw, but they did OK.  We’ve been enjoying carrots and parsnips for about 6 weeks now and there is plenty yet to enjoy.

There’s definitely some carrot root fly damage on the carrots. My usual plan with beetroot is to have a year-round supply from three sowings in February, March and July but the final sowing in July didn’t get going quick enough and is only good for leaves.

I include celery and celeriac in the roots rotation – the former I only grew a small amount of, while the latter I grew over 30. They really come into their own at this time of the year.

Potatoes

Not a great year for spuds here. The late spring meant that growth was poor on the early potatoes, while the drought meant poor yields for the main crop. I was blighted by blight and wireworm. Little wonder there are mutterings about spud shortages in the commercial world.

Legumes

Great crop of French beans in the tunnel as always, the peas outside were OK. Late sowing of broad beans from October 17 gave a bumper early crop in June.

And finally

We’ve passed the shortest day of the year now and we move forward, knowing that longer days and spring are just around the corner. Another year of growing beckons, another chance to have that elusive, perfect growing year.

Happy Christmas folks and see you on the other side.

Recipe of the Week: Spinach and Ricotta Pie
The ricotta cheese gives this a nice creamy texture.  This is a great dish to get spinach into your diet in a way that doesn’t feel frugal.

Ingredients:

  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 250g young spinach
  • 1 egg
  • 250g ricotta, drained
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 100g feta cheese
  • 4 sheets filo pastry (each roughly 38cm x 30cm)

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion and garlic for 10 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the spinach and cook for 5 minutes, stirring. Tip into a sieve and press to remove as much excess liquid as possible. Cool.

Beat the egg with the ricotta and nutmeg and season. Stir in the feta with the spinach and onion. Heat the oven to 200C/fan 180C.  

Rub a little oil in a 20cm cake tin. Line with the filo sheets, leaving excess pastry overhanging and rubbing each sheet with a little oil. Spoon the cheese and spinach mixture into the tin.

Bring the pastry up and over the top of the pie. Brush generously with oil. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Serve warm or cold.

Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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